The wailing women descend upon the house like an air-raid siren. I am lying on my cot and counting the pixies that fly in from the afternoon heat and settle on my fingers. The one that looks alarmingly like my mother settles in a mess of red sari and gold border by the foot of the bed and starts in her loud voice.
‘Have you thought about marriage?’
‘I don’t know’
‘All self-respecting south Indian women get married’
The old one in the corner starts coughing violently.
‘I want to see you married before I die’ she wheezes. ‘I want all my children to be married and happy’
‘I’m not your child’ I tell her.
‘I want all my grandchildren to be happy.’
‘But I am happy.’
She coughs and brings up a jagged stone of heavy black from her mouth and sets it on the floor to keep the room from spinning.
‘You’re wasting your life’, the one who looks suspiciously like my mother starts up again. She is slicing onions with a knife, a safety pin gripped tightly between her teeth. More pixies float in from the afternoon scorching heat. I watch them settle on my big toe and implode into a ball of furry pixie dust.
‘Do you know to tie a sari?’
Chop chop chop.
‘You will learn.’ she says.
Chop chop chop.
‘It is your duty to get married.’ She continues.
‘Then I will be a success.’
‘Then I have raised two children, put them through engineering, and got them married into respectable families.’
‘Then you’re on your own.’
‘What if I fail?’
She doesn’t answer. The one is the corner has thrown up four glistening black stones. They have flecks of vomit-and-blood coloured spots in them. One of the black stones crumbles and begins to wail in a slow and steadily increasing Doppler Effect siren.
‘And if I don’t?’ I ask.
‘Then I fail’.
‘You’re a failure anyway’.
Chop chop chop.
The wailing is beginning to spin the room. I walk outside the spinning room with the wailing ladies chopping onions. There is a crooked trail of red ants that lead to a stone well. I follow it and look down.
‘The water is fine’
The voice from the well echoes up. I look into the black hole and see four naked women standing at the bottom.
‘Where?’ I ask.
I am standing on the edge of the well. The cold stone creeps up between my toes and bites, injecting little darts of formic acid into my flesh. I step back and shake my head.
‘I haven’t been touched in a long time.’ she says.
‘But I’m free.’
‘What’s that?’ I point to a muddy puddle of brown on the floor of the well.
‘That’s my left tit.’
‘What happened to it?’
‘It died of dejection.’
‘I can’t talk to you anymore.’
‘Mother said to stay away from divorcees, spinsters and lepers. You can catch it from them.’
‘We’re not divorced.’
‘Then you’re prostitutes. You’re in heels.’
‘Prostitutes don’t wear heels. They’re bare-footed and wear a red blouse too tight to contain their small breasts, and sport lipstick stains on their teeth’
The edges of stone are starting to lap and suck around my ankles like quicksand. I extract my feet with a slopsound and walk away to the small brick wall. I hear singing from the naked women in the well.
I sit on the wall, resting my elbows on my knees. The folds of my sari collect in a pool of crumpled cloth between my legs. Wails emanate from the spinning house.
‘Why don’t you marry’ the wail forms words and carry to where I am seated.
‘What if I fail?’
‘That won’t happen.’
‘Then I’ll be divorced. No one likes a divorcee. They throw stones at her in the street and lorry drivers try to force themselves on her when she sleeps at night. I’ll lose all my friends’
‘Then don’t get divorced.’
‘Then I’ll be unhappy, and he’ll force himself on me every night like a sweating grunting pig attacking a dead fish.’
‘You’ll have a family and you’ll be happy.’
‘I’ll have a family and I’ll be trapped. If I leave then, daughters will blame me, my sons will grow cold and stop talking to me, my in-laws will burn my ears with their red-coal words and my parents will wear my shame in their house like a soiled sanitary napkin on a marble floor.’
‘What other way is there?’
‘I’ll just wait.’
A girl in a blue synthetic pavadai jumps from the spinning house and squats down on the grass next to me. She is carrying a handwoven palmleaf rice-sifter containing white jasminey flowers that have just started to wilt. She fishes a needle and string out from somewhere inside her clothing and begins to string them together.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask her.
‘I am stringing a garland of Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.’
‘How will you know which is which?’
‘Look’, she says and picks out a wilting flower with a strong smell from the heap of white and throws it away. ‘That was a Sunday afternoon.’
‘And then what will you do?’
She gathers the Sunday mornings in her hands and tightly clasps her palms together. A small drop of glistening metal emerges from the folds of her hands and slides into a dirty glass jar she has placed nearby. She opens her palms and wipes the wet crumpled flowers on her petticoat.
‘Be careful to throw out the Sunday afternoons. And definitely no Mondays. They are poison.’
‘What will you do with it?’ I persist.
‘I wear it when I get older’ she says.
She lifts her top and dabs a little between her small unformed breasts.
‘When they smell it, they will come.’
She hummed as she strung the afternoons and mornings together in a tidy white garland. I saw the string she used was cutting the soft skin on her fingers. She was bleeding pixie dust. She turns to me and smiles, her teeth stained with borrowed red lipstick. Her humming drowns out the singing from the well and the sound of wails from the spinning house.